How and why does an infant smile is an extremely gripping subject, both socially and academically? Research suggests that after six months, the smile can be as social as it is emotional. Smiling can be the gateway to how we begin to communicate with the world rather than expressing our inner world. An infant’s smile was considered to be a reflection of the inner emotions, but research has shown there is more to it. A baby develops smiling around six to eight weeks. This is the time when the babies spend their days gazing at the smiling faces of the adults. These smiles teach the babies the positive association attached with a smile. For a baby, learning to smile and its meaning is much like learning how to walk. Developmental psychologists have tracked many different baby smiles:
1. Reflexive Smile (0 – 6 Weeks):
During REM sleep, the baby’s body experiences physiological changes that may activate certain reflexes, like that of a smile. In this phase, the smile is only a physical reaction. No emotions are attached to it.
2. Responsive Smile (6 - 8 Weeks):
With growth, the baby starts to smile at things they find pleasurable – like voices, faces, kisses, cuddles, etc. In this stage too, the smile is a sensory response, not a social one. Hence, not much should be expected from the baby. You will find out what voices or sounds or activities your baby responds to with a smile. You should give your baby the opportunities to study things and faces so that he or she learns to respond to them.
3. Social Smile (2 – 3 Months):
Up until this phase, the baby’s response to a smile was due to internal reactions. At this stage, babies learn to connect. They will smile when they see you and will react by making noises or gestures. They will understand that they can grasp your attention by smiling too, and not just by crying. However, your baby will not always smile when you want them to and he will experience and express other emotions too.
4. Selective Smile (About 9 Months):
At this age, baby learns that you are special and distinct from the crowd of faces he sees every day. On the other hand, this leads to the setting in of stranger anxiety in the baby, meaning he will stop smiling at the strangers. Although, it may lead you into some sort of embarrassment, being able to distinguish between faces is a healthy sign for the baby.
5. A Sense of Humour (About 12 Months):
On about reaching the age of 1 year, as the baby starts to develop language skills, a sense of humor also emerges in the baby. They laugh and laugh a lot when you make funny faces and noises. When the baby finds something funny and laughs hard, they expect a reaction from you too, so laugh along with them. A big element in the baby’s laugh at 12 months is that of surprise. Drop something and then make a funny face, and your baby will find it hysterical and burst into laughter. Put your baby on your knees, grasp his attention by some activity, like singing a song, and then let him fall down a bit. He will be surprised and start laughing.